On debut Draumr Àst, Sweden’s Bhleg isn’t out to redefine anything; they both understand and revel in this. Despite their country of origin, they take a decidedly Norwegian approach in their black metal, looking to the riffiest, rawest, and coldest of the Second Wave for inspiration, and show a clear ability to do more than just imitate and pay homage.
Bhleg’s core sound starts with mid-paced, raw black metal that is particularly compressed in the guitar tone, achieving maximum prickliness and chill. Drums are low in the mix, vocals high, but everything is crisp and clear as opposed to dense and layered. This simple, time-honored approach to black metal is often cited by fans as a central reason for the style’s quality, and by detractors as evidence for opposite arguments.
But for the frostily dedicated, the way Bhleg utilizes this sound will be quite appealing, particularly when they deliver the types of expressive, emotive melodies and riffs that should feel at home to fans of Burzum, Nattens Madrigal-era Ulver, Drudkh, and countless others. The formula is especially effective during the duo of “Alyr” and “Brunnens hjärta,” both of which are drenched in haunting chord progressions made even more compelling through the treble-heavy guitar tone. Add in touches like great, perma-phlegm vocals and even some ghostly chants, and you’ve got a formula for standing out despite the utter lack of originality on hand.
Another major aspect of Bhleg’s sound pushes Draumr Àst even closer to the first in the above list of influences—that being an unabashed love for haunting, quiet keyboard and ambient tracks. “Kosmos pulsådra,” for example, isn’t too far off from Varg’s Casio tickling on Det som engang var, and aids the album in similar fashion. In fact, the album could actually use a couple more breaks in the ice, as the lack of any real variation in the black metal means that the album tends to drag on a bit.
It goes without saying that this album was made for a very focused market, but it should succeed in pleasing this niche. It isn’t the best material mining the icy early 90s for inspiration, but it’s a promising debut from a band with a clear understanding of their place and musical mission, not to mention good listening for the transition from autumn to winter.